Gap Years Don't Have To Be Scary Or Stop Your Life
When I graduated high school over four years ago, I had things figured out. I was going to do two years at a community college, two at a university, probably go on to get my graduate degree and find a sweet job right away where I was super happy.
You know, the dream.
One year into my business major only reaffirmed my path choice.
I was in love with my courses and knew I had chosen the right field. By senior year, I had won a national award, started a new club, achieved outstanding graduate and aced all my classes.
I was SO ready for this post-college thing. I always bypassed those "how to transition to life after college" articles on the web and my social feeds.
I thought I had it figured out.
I already had it figured out.
Then, as you can probably predict, life happened.
I walked across the stage at graduation triumphant, proudly accepting my degree, and I relished in it for a couple weeks.
Although I didn't have a full-time position lined up, I had a summer job as backup, and I still had some time to find that perfect job.
I was also in the midst of planning my dream wedding and encouraging my soon-to-be husband achieve his goals, and somehow a couple months flew by.
I began my "big girl" job search in the area and wasn't too excited about what I was finding.
Over time, the realization sunk in that an open-ended degree has a lot of potential, but no guarantee of a job.
People who obtain degrees in specific paths typically have a route carved out for them. Internship placements, fieldwork and a title are all part of the gig.
Unfortunately, for us business people, the future can look like one big question mark. Our degrees can lead us to a wide array of jobs. Though this is enticing, it also leads to the large issue of figuring out what exactly "it" is that you want to do... forever.
As I worked all summer, I began to doubt myself.
Did I get the right degree? Have I made a mistake? Is it too late to go back and get something more specific?
These thoughts controlled me. They began to make me miserable.
As my wedding fast approached and we made the decision to stay local for my husband's employment, I fell into what some people might say was a "slump."
I had no idea what I wanted to do with my degree.
The things I was interested in weren't in my area. They were in bigger cities, in agency work, in event planning, content creation, and writing.
I scoured every source I could every day for jobs: Monster, LinkedIn, the newspaper, social media and other sites. I reached out to connections in town and asked them for advice and to keep their ears open for me.
As nothing too fabulous came my way, the unavoidable feeling of failure crept over me and took a place in my mind and body. I couldn't shake the awful feelings of self-doubt that consumed me.
The hard truth came slowly, over time. Jobs are hard to find.
A job you like is even more difficult to find, especially in a small town with fewer opportunities. I interviewed at five different places. One seemed to have a toxic company culture and I was immediately told I would need a "thick skin" to work there.
One went amazing, but I got a rejection notice. One had me incredibly excited and I was even moved to the next stage in employment before the hiring manager stopped returning my calls and messages.
I was exposed to a few different environments and haven't found the right fit yet. I did end up taking a job, but it's not what I'd hope is my forever job. To me, it's more of a placeholder until that right one comes up.
So here I am, almost eight months into post-college life. It hasn't gone as I expected it to at all. I can't say it hasn't been a letdown for me, and I am still continuing onward in the pursuit of a job I feel comfortable in.
I am terrified to accept full time work that I hate, simply to get sucked into the system of "having a job to pay the bills."
Although I see the validity, I want to enjoy the place I spend 40+ hours a week. I know my first "real" job won't be my dream job, but I want to feel like it's a step in the right direction.
No one prepared me for this strange and uncomfortable shift that my life would take after leaving the safe and successful bubble of my university, where I was something.
No one told me that I might wake up in a cold sweat at night, worried that my future was headed in the wrong direction and I made the worst decision ever with an open degree.
No one explained (or taught me how to conquer) the jealousy or resentment I might feel toward others who are reaching their full potential right now while I sit here and try to figure everything out.
So, for now, I wait. I look.
I keep my head up, and I don't give up the fight.
There is something out there for me. I just need to continue in the pursuit of career happiness and not lose sight of what I already HAVE while I look for something I don't.
Because amidst this post-graduation life, I've had new and positive experiences. I married a driven, fearless man who is working hard so we can one day have the life we dreamed of.
I watched my friends achieve their goals and move on to big things, and despite the pings in my heart that come up once in a while, it's made me unbelievably proud.
I've done things I haven't done in the last 16 years thanks to school, like binge watch shows without the burden of homework and bake cookies late at night.
I work, but part-time, and I've had time to move us to a new apartment, expand my cooking skills, see my friends when they're home, and get back into writing.
This life, it's not all bad.
There is so much good mixed in with it.
I'm just learning how to adjust to this new normal, and at the end of the day I try to remember that I'm not even 23. I have a lot of time to work these thing out.
With the grace of god and whole lot of LinkedIn, something will come my way. It just takes time, patience, and perseverance.
I'm not planning on losing sight of what I want for myself anytime soon.